U.S. Fears of Communism

exhibit section showing artifacts and photos


Following its success in World War II, the United States faced the future with a sense of righteousness and confidence. The principal threat to U.S. security and that of struggling democracies was Communist aggression from the Soviet Union and its perceived ally, Red China. In order to contain the spread of Communism, any sign of aggressive action would be met quickly and forcefully.

The "police action" in Korea was the first test of America's resolve to support democracy in Asia, but was only another war in China's long struggle to eliminate Western influence. Although the Communist advance was stopped, it came at a great price - the death of 54,000 Americans. The Korean War also brought down a reigning American military hero, and signified the beginning of the Cold War era.

Chinese support to Communist strongholds south of its borders threatened the weak democracies of Indochina (Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia). After U.S. financial and military aid was increased throughout the 1950s - then alarmingly escalated in the 1960s and early 1970s - America was finally forced to admit defeat against the advancing tide of Communism. The price of The Vietnam War was extremely high, costing more than 58,000 lives and $140 billion dollars.

The U.S. had fallen under the spell of the "Domino Theory" - the belief that if Indochina gave in to communism, all of Southeast Asia would fall. Because of the fear of Communism, America faced its first humbling military defeat.

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exhibit section showing artifacts and photos
Diary Pages (copies) - regarding the dismissal of General MacArthur, 1951
Statement to Congress (copy) - regarding the dismissal of MacArthur, 1951
Political Cartoon - regarding U.S. aid to nations supplying Red China
Handwritten notes (copy) - regarding peace negotiations with North Korea, 1952
--Artifacts on loan, courtesy of the Harry Truman Presidential Library and Museum, Independence, Missouri

The Korean War was the direct result of the partition of Korea after WWII into two zones of occupation - the communist North controlled by the Soviets, and the democratic South occupied by the United States. When North Korean forces crossed the 38th parallel to invade South Korea on June 25, 1950, they nearly achieved victory. Within three days, northern troops had taken the southern capital of Seoul.

The United States called for aid from the United Nations, and General Douglas MacArthur was appointed Supreme Commander of a multi-national combat force, dominated by Americans. MacArthur risked an amphibious landing at Inchon far behind enemy lines, and his forces successfully routed the North Korean army. The U.N. troops pursued the retreating forces toward the Yalu River that lay between North Korea and China.

That was too much for Mao Zedong. The Red Chinese joined the war and launched "human wave attacks" that decimated the allied armies and forced them back across the 38th parallel.

MacArthur publicly criticized President Truman's refusal to invade Chinese territory. Their power struggle culminated in 1951 when Truman shocked the nation and dismissed the General for insubordination. By then, the war had become a stalemate with troops on both sides entrenched. A cease-fire was declared in July 1953, but no peace treaty was ever signed and a demilitarized zone still exists to this day.



exhibit section showing artifacts and photos

Artifacts on loan, courtesy of:
Letter (copy)
- from Ho Chi Minh to President Truman requesting help against the French, 1946.
--National Archives and Records Administration, Modern Military Records, Washington, DC
Report (copy) - economic aid to Vietnam, 1950-1955
Agenda (copy) - "doodle" by Ike showing a torn U.S. flag, 1954
--Dwight Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum, Abilene, Kansas
Letter (copy) - to Vice President Nixon from Saigon regarding Red Chinese activity, 1958
--Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace, Yorba Linda, California
Associated Press Wire Report (copy) - regarding the fighting ability of the South Vietnamese, 1963
CIA Report and Map (copies) - showing ability of Vietnamese Army without further U.S. aid, 1963
--John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston, Massachusetts
Cartoon (copy) - "Peace Feeler" by Karl Hubenthal, 1966
Cartoon (copy) - "Pilot to Navigator" by Richard Wallmeyer, 1967
--Lyndon Johnson Presidential Library and Museum, Austin, Texas

The Vietnam War resulted from a struggle for independence. After World War II when France tried to re-establish their control over Indochina, Vietnamese communists fought back. The United States aided their French ally by supplying financial support and military advisors, then transferred this support to South Vietnam after France's defeat in 1954.

China provided aid to North Vietnam and its communist leader Ho Chi Minh, who aimed to unify the country. In the South, the Vietnamese set up a shaky democracy opposed by southern communists of the National Liberation Front (also called the Viet Cong). The U.S. remained in an advisory role until 1964, when a U.S. destroyer was allegedly torpedoed in the Gulf of Tonkin. President Johnson sent in 60,000 Marines. Five long years later, U.S. combat troops peaked at 575,000.

Massive bombardment and the use of "Agent Orange" chemicals to clear the jungles, wreaked havoc on Vietnamese cities and cropland, as well as on soldiers in the field. During the conflict, 3-4 million Vietnamese were killed, in addition to 1½-2 million Laotians and Cambodians. And almost 60,000 American lives were sacrificed.


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